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The economics of police work

ASP James Goh got a taste of the exciting side of policing during an attachment with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in his first year of junior college.

Now 26, he recalls: “It was the stuff of dramas and Crimewatch. I got a glimpse of the frontline work that our officers do and also saw a very different side of Singapore.” He was inspired by how meaningful the work was, as well as the strong camaraderie among officers. So he signed up for the SPF Overseas Scholarship, now known as the Singapore Police Force Scholarship (SPFS).

An enriching experience

On the SPFS, which funds tuition fees and allowance, he pursued a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Chicago in the United States, majoring in economics and obtaining a minor in statistics, graduating in 2015.

“I was very interested in how and why we make decisions both at an individual and at a larger collective level. Economics is one way of looking at that question,” he says. He also took classes in areas such as Russian politics, creative writing, history and computer science.

Initially, he found class participation and discussion daunting. “I was not yet used to it. I wanted to give fully considered answers to questions, but I soon realised that the questions did not have straightforward answers and the discussions helped bring out a new understanding,” he recalls.

Studies aside, he travelled through the country, which exposed him to different ways of life and diversity. In fact, he went on a two- week solo trip across a part of the US by bus and train. He also did a summer internship at a Michelin 3-star restaurant group where he helped to develop the business case for an online reservation service. He found it an enriching experience.

“The company had a start-up sort of feel, with gym balls for chairs and self-built standing desks. The dynamic and collaborative culture allowed me to learn a lot. There are so many parts of the restaurant that rely on each other; from the chefs to the reservations team to the cleaning crew and food purchaser. It’s such a tight process,” he says.

Transformative work

ASP Goh is always asked about how his economics degree relates to his job as a police officer.

He explains: “My education in economics has given me a solid toolbox to help me think through issues and understand them. For example, the concepts of supply and demand, equilibrium and underlying incentives are applicable and helpful in analysing many issues.”

He started work in 2015 doing investigative work at a Police Land Division where he located suspects and responded to cases with his team. Three years into the job, he is now an operations officer in the Operations Department of the SPF looking at frontline policies.

“As I have been involved in various work streams that affect frontline officers, there is always something fresh to look at. I spend time testing new capabilities and equipment, as well as thinking through the ground issues that our officers face. We are also undergoing transformation efforts to allow us to effectively fight crime and keep Singapore safe,” he says.

He finds that his scholarship is a door to a meaningful career. “This really is more than just a job. The variety of experiences you get here is quite remarkable, and you go through them with great people by your side,” he says.